You know that feeling before the first day of school? Well on the Saturday morning that I was first dropped off with my host family, I was more nervous than I think I will ever be again. There were six fellows in the van with me that morning, as well as our team leader. We left the retreat center that had been an English heaven for us in southern Ecuador for the last week. I was the fourth person to be dropped off. When it was finally my turn, I was terrified. I knew no Spanish, nor did I have any other ideas about what to expect from my family. We pulled up to a house with a family standing out front and then woosh the van was gone. I was alone with my new family, sitting in their living room trying to remember some of the Spanish that I had learned in school, but in that moment I knew nothing. After a little while we moved to the table to eat lunch.
After finishing lunch with my new family, I was invited to unpack my things into my new room and rest. I went upstairs to my room and focused intently on unpacking in order to calm my panicking mind. When I had finished, I sat down on my new bed and took a deep breath.
I was woken up from my state of partial nap by commotion downstairs. I sat up, afraid to leave my room because I did not yet know how to interact with my family and I also couldn’t communicate well. I decided to take the leap and go downstairs. As soon as I went downstairs, I was asked if everything with my room was alright and I was invited to go the family farm with my dad, all of which I only half understood. Nevertheless, I went upstairs to get my shoes and I scribbled something down on the envelope I left on my new desk that was holding my United States sim card. I wrote: “BEST DECISION EVER!!!” Yes, it did have three exclamation points and the entire statement was underlined three times.
And indeed it was. I don’t really know whether I was talking about my decision to go downstairs or my decision to take a gap year. The evening continued with me getting to help feed the animals and plant some lettuce at the family farm (which is now always referred to as my lettuce), a quick driving tour of Paute, and finally dinner back at the house. Like most first day fears, mine were unfounded and had disappeared by day 2. I hope and believe that throwing myself into a situation of such great unknown, with the help of my program, has enhanced my thirst to try new things and my ability to face the unknown. As I put it to one of my friends in the program, “I don’t think we will have another first day that scary.”